Monday 11 April 2011

Just when you thought sound recordings had gone quiet ...

The eventual duration of
copyright in sound recordings? 
"Copyright term extension: Back from the grave" is the title of this piece by Bournemouth University's Martin Kretschmer. He explains:
"Two years ago, on 23 April 2009, the last European Parliament voted in first reading for a proposed Directive, extending the term of copyright for sound recordings from currently 50 to 70 years. The Directive was then blocked on the Council of the European Union by a coalition of Benelux, and some Scandinavian and East European countries that took note of the empirical evidence mustered by independent academics from across Europe.

Since 2009, the world has changed. A new European Parliament and Commission are in place, and the focus of recent copyright initiatives has been on the opportunities offered by digitisation for cultural, social and commercial innovation. As Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda said in speech at Avignon on 5 November 2010: 
“Instead of a dysfunctional [copyright] system based on a series of cultural Berlin walls, I want a return to sense. A system where there is scope to create new opportunities for artists and creators, and new business models that better fit the digital age. We want to help you seize the opportunities of this age.“
So why has the Copyright Term Extension Directive suddenly re-appeared on the Agenda of the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (JURI), as a late addendum (at no. 31, and as of Monday 11 April, not on the website of the JURI committee)? [link here to Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström]

Music industry lobbyists have succeeded in overturning Danish and Czech opposition, picking off key members of parliament in these countries. The Danish government has now notified the Commission that it supports term extension, breaking the blocking minority on the Council. See press release of 24 February.

Prompted by the Internal Market Directorate of the Commission, the current Hungarian presidency of the European Union is now looking to fast track this stale piece of legislation through Parliament while preparing the Council for a vote before the end of its presidency in June.

The Directors of four leading European intellectual property research institutes have just written an open letter in order to raise attention of this matter. It is still possible that the European Parliament will ask for a proper second reading of the text, or that other countries on the Council will reform a blocking minority (including the UK which is currently reviewing her intellectual property laws for their contribution to innovation and growth: Hargreaves Review, due to report at the end of April)".
Further developments will be posted here, as they unfold, tomorrow.

As a relatively keen observer of IP developments, I'm not often taken by surprise -- but this certainly caught me out.  I'm also unaware of any new evidence having been unearthed in order to present a stronger case for extension than that which was previously rejected.  Has there been any? Can anyone tell me?

Thanks are due to Martin Kretschmer and Mike Lynd (Marks & Clerk) for keeping me informed.


John R walker said...

There is more than a touch of the 'realm of the hungry ghosts' about some aspects of IP.

Anonymous said...

This is ridiculous and has nothing to do with the real raison d'etre of copyright -- which is to reward and stimulate creativity and innovation.

Surely these days if you haven't made a good return on your creation within five or ten years you chalk it up as a bit of a flop and move on to do something else.

Longer copyright terms may have made sense in the 18th century when a new work could take many years to achieve penetration. But these days we should be moving to shorten not lengthen copyright terms.

The pressure to lengthen terms seems to be simply an exercise in a few rights-holders milking large back catalogues -- long after they have recovered any costs associated with generating the works and made a very generous profit on top.

In the case of sound-recordings, I really can't see how keeping a record made in the 50s in copyright can possibly stimulate creators to produce more or better sound recordings today.

I love IP but this is madness.

Steve Peers said...

It would be easy to push this through without going back to the EP, if the Council (by a qualified majority of Member States) is willing simply to vote for the text exactly as the EP voted for it in 2009. This is exactly what is planned, see:

There is a reference here to a 'corrigendum' by the EP, which I assume means a technical correction, not a fully-fledged new vote. This may be why the issue was on the agenda of the EP's legal affairs committee.

Anonymous said...

One of the major causes for this issue to not hit the mainstream is that there *is* no "public domain" music available - it's something entirely new.

The other cause is that the public has not been properly educated on copyright. They know it means "you're not allowed to copy it", but that's all.

It would help to have a large-scale informational campaign on what exactly copyright is, what its goals are, that the trade-off is that published (=made public) works that are copyrighted will, after a time, become "public domain", what public domain is, why it is good for the world as a whole to have a rich public domain.

The "enemy of public domain" is
- internationally organized
- well-connected
- well-funded
- using large scale informational campaigns
- advancing their side instead of trying to find some middle ground
- not afraid to use the dirty tricks department to the fullest (WIPO vs. WTO, using urgency rules, etc.)

The "friends of public domain" should
- get internationally organized - use any cultural promotion platform, consumer rights platform, etc. and get their cooperation
- get connected to counterbalance the local lobbyists, federal/EU lobbyists, United Nations organizations and Trade organizations
- find any and all research by respected scientists that advances the cause of public domain and share this through the network to be made available to all political contacts
- secure funding by applying for any grants available e.g. programs that promote culture
- use the social networks to collectively create wonderful promotional campaigns aimed at the general public, schools, etc. to explain in simple terms what it's all about
- promote the notion that Intellectual Property should in priciple be subject to a Property tax (this hits Big Media where it hurts: right now it doesn't cost them them a penny to sit on a trillions of IP, so an extra 20 years is FREE!)
- find artists that can stand up to the big labels and agree that copyright terms should be limited
- advance your own side instead of trying to find the middle ground: if your opinion is +10 and your adversary is -10, don't try to be reasonable and come up with 0; your adversary will stay at -10 and then the compromise is suddenly -5 instead of 0.